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18 Scenic Hiking Spots in North Carolina

By | Last Updated : 3rd August 2021

It is great fun to hike the North Carolina trails requiring scrambling or climbing ladders and cables. Whether a day hike or an overnight one, each has a thrilling adventure in store for you; some will lead you to mountain summits while others to stunning waterfalls. Moreover, the beautiful rhododendrons and wildflowers blooming all along are a sight to behold. Even the least strenuous trails like Roan Mountain Gardens Trail and Max Patch Loop that require a short hike will give you breathtaking panoramic views. You’ll also be able to spot some wildlife on your way.

Hiking Spots in North Carolina

Best Hiking Trails in Northern North Carolina

1. Grandfather Trail 

Grandfather Trail in Northern North Carolina

This trail near Linville in northwestern North Carolina is challenging yet adventurous. Starting from the parking lot, it traverses along the summit ridge of the Grand Mountain until finally reaching Calloway Peak. If you’re an experienced hiker or not afraid of heights, you will undoubtedly enjoy hiking the trail. Apart from going through the forests of spruce and fir trees, you’ll also have to climb the steep sections with the help of cables and ladders. The views along the way and on the summits are, no doubt, breathtaking. You can complete the out and back hike within 5.5 to 6 hours. It takes about $22 per adult and $9 for children as an admission fee.

Length: About 4 miles out and back

Difficulty: Hard

Best time to visit: April to November

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2. Stone Mountain State Park Trails

Stone Mountain State Park Trails in Northern North Carolina

There are several hiking trails within Stone Mountain State Park, that circle around the giant granite dome. You can hike the Stone Mountain Loop Trail that will take you to the top of the mountain. Along the way, you’ll be able to treat your eyes with scenic wonders like a gorgeous waterfall and tall trees. You’ll also come across the homestead of Hutchinson’s family, who took shelter under the mountain for four generations. The views of Blue Ridge Mountain and its surroundings are stunning.

You can choose the Stone Mountain to Cedar Rock Trail Loop for a longer hike, which will take about 3 hours to complete. Most of them attempt it counter-clockwise, starting from Cedar Rock and ending at the base of Stone Mountain. The mountain views are certainly rewarding. It would be best to bring plenty of water as you won’t find any place to refill inside the state park.

Length: Stone Mountain Loop Trail (About 4.5 miles), Stone Mountain to Cedar Rock Trail Loop (About 6.5 miles)

Difficulty: Moderate

Best time to visit: All-year-round

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3. Johnston Mill Natural Preserve

Johnston Mill Natural Preserve in Northern North Carolina

Johnston Mill Natural Preserve, a neighbor of Chapel Hill in north-central North Carolina, features about three and a half miles of scenic trail. Named as Old Field Bluff Trail, it starts from the parking lot, passing through woods, rocky paths, creeks, and bridges. Though an easy trail, some sections of it can be pretty muddy, especially after rainfall. Remember to wear proper footwear and download the trail map to avoid getting lost. You might also encounter a white-tail deer browsing in the woods.

You can choose the Robin’s, Bluebird, Old Field Bluff, and Beech Trail Loop for a longer and more strenuous hike. Though some parts do not have shade, the beautiful forest views and tranquil paths will keep you going.

Length: Old Field Bluff Trail Robin’s (About 4.5 miles), Bluebird, Old Field Bluff, and Beech Trail Loop (About 3 miles)

Difficulty: Old Field Bluff Trail (Easy), Robin’s, Bluebird, Old Field Bluff, and Beech Trail Loop (Moderate)

Best time to visit: March to November

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4. Otter Falls Trail

Otter Falls Trail in Northern North Carolina

This short trail near Banner Elk is a family-friendly one. Following the blue markers from the trailhead, you’ll reach the pretty falls. There are some sharp, steep inclines and stream crossings, but otherwise, you can easily do it. Along the trail, you’ll find many benches also. After admiring the views, you can go to the upper part of the falls and even cross it for more scenic vistas. However, be careful of the slippery areas.

Length: About 1 mile (out and back)                                                        

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

Best time to visit: All-year-round

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5. Flat Rock Loop Trail

Flat Rock Loop Trail in Northern North Carolina

Flat Rock Loop Trail in Blue Ridge Parkway is a wide one, consisting of gravel and paved paths. Rather than hiking, it is a walking trail on a flat surface along creeks and woods. Within half an hour or so, you’ll be able to complete it. With picnic tables and benches all along, you can also relax for some time under a shady tree.

Length: 1.5 miles

Difficulty: Easy                                                                                                                                 

Best time to visit: April to September

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6. West House Trail

West House Trail in Northern North Carolina

This flat trail in Greensboro is easy and short, suited for hikers of all skill levels. It takes you along a lush forest setting with some lake views starting from across North Church Street. At the trail’s end, walk further towards your right side to see the historic West House. You can also enjoy a small picnic there. Put on proper footwear as there are some slippery spots, especially after rainfall.

Length: About 1.5 miles (round trip)

Difficulty: Easy

Best time to visit: All-year-round

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Best Hiking Trails in Western North Carolina

1. Art Loeb Trail

Art Loeb Trail in Western North Carolina

Located in Pisgah National Forest, this trail is one of the state’s best yet challenging ones. You can either start from the north side at Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp and complete it at the south end near the Davidson River Campground or vice-versa. The trail winds around four mountains, each having a height of above 6000 feet. You will have to traverse through rocky terrains and exposed ridges. However, the sweeping views of diverse landscapes along the trail and each mountain summit are well worth the effort. With many campsites on the way, you can plan a backpacking trip of 3 to 5 days to complete the entire trail. Since it might not be well-marked at some sections, it is better to carry a trail map.

Length: Approximately 30 miles

Difficulty: Hard

Best time to visit: April to November

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2. Roan Mountain Gardens Trail 

Roan Mountain Gardens Trail in Western North Carolina

You’ll find many trails in the scenic Roan Mountain State Park, which is a favorite hiking and camping spot among many. The beautiful patches of Catawba rhododendrons, especially at Carvers Gap, are a sight to behold. You will also hike through spruce-fir forests and get spectacular views of several mountains, including Grandfather Mountain, Table Rock, and Mount Mitchell.

Roan Mountain Gardens Trail begins from the parking lot and has two loops. The upper one is wheelchair-friendly with numerous interpretative stops. Moreover, it also has an observation deck overlooking the picturesque gardens. The lower loop, on the other hand, consists of several steps, also offering impressive views.

For a more challenging hike and to see more scenic vistas, you can select the Cloudland Trail to Roan High Bluff.

You need to spend $3 to park your car in the parking lot.

Length: About 1 mile

Difficulty: Easy

Best time to visit: May to October.

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3. Appalachian Trail

Appalachian Trail in Western North Carolina

Stretching from Georgia to Maine, this lengthy trail traverses over 14 states for more than 2,180 miles. In the North Carolina segment, you’ll find many hiking trails that are a part of the main trail. You can choose the Max Patch Loop to get splendid panoramic views of the mountain surroundings. In addition, it also provides views of beautiful wildflowers and other floras. Don’t miss the lovely sunset and sunrise views from the top.

Another well-traveled trail is the Grassy Ridge Bald via Appalachian Trail. The Grassy Ridge is a large patch of grasses on Roan Mountain, offering picturesque vistas of rhododendrons. You’ll have to start from Carvers Gap to reach it. Also, the trail provides many bird-watching opportunities. A backpacking trip would be ideal along this path.

Another favorite trail among hikers worth mentioning is Lovers Leap Loop Trail, of moderate difficulty level, 2 miles long.

Length: Max Patch Loop (About 1.5 miles), Grassy Ridge Bald via Appalachian Trail (About 5 miles)

Difficulty: Max Patch Loop (Easy),Grassy Ridge Bald via Appalachian Trail (Moderate)

Best time to visit: April to October

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4. Mt. Mitchell State Park Trails

Mt. Mitchell State Park Trails in Western North Carolina

Mt. Mitchell State Park provides many hiking trails with extraordinary views. Mount Mitchell Summit Trail, a short and paved one, offers marvelous 360° views of the surroundings. You can choose the Old Mitchell, Camp Alice, and Commissary Trail for a more challenging hike, winding through the woods, providing some awe-inspiring mountain views.  A hiking pole would come in handy to tread along uneven surfaces.

Length: Mount Mitchell Summit Trail Old Mitchell (About 0.4 miles, out and back), Camp Alice and Commissary Trail (About 4 miles, out and back)

Length: Mount Mitchell Summit Trail Old Mitchell (About 0.4 miles, out and back), Camp Alice and Commissary Trail (About 4 miles, out and back)

Difficulty: Mount Mitchell Summit Trail Old Mitchell (Easy), Camp Alice and Commissary Trail (Moderate)

Best time to visit: April to November

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5. Craggy Pinnacle Trail

Craggy Pinnacle Trailin in Western North Carolina

This scenic trail on the Blue Ridge Parkway starts from the Craggy Dome Parking Area. With the help of a short uphill hike, you’ll get exceptional views from the observation platform. Along the rocky trail, you’ll go on and off the forest areas and will also get to see rhododendrons and wildflowers. As you come towards its end, you’ll find a spur trail diverging to the right and left directions. While the left one will take you to the upper overlook, the right one leads you to the lower. You can hike the upper one to get a comprehensive picture of the Blue Ridge Mountain landscapes.

Length: About 1 mile out and back

Difficulty: Easy

Best time to visit: March to October

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6. Catawba Falls Trail

Catawba Falls Trail in Western North Carolina

This trailhead begins from the parking lot, traversing through a lush valley. It is a short one, and all along, the trees will provide you shade while you hike upstream of the river. When you reach the end, the multi-layered Catawba Falls awaits you. You’ll also be able to see pretty little cascades on the river using the side trail. The rocks can be slippery, so don’t go too close to the waterfall. Also, try visiting it on weekdays to avoid the crowd.

Length: About 2.3 miles (out and back)

Difficulty: Moderate

Best time to visit: All-year-round

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7. Clingmans Dome Trail

Clingmans Dome Trail in Western North Carolina

This paved trail leads to the Clingmans Dome, the highest point in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 6,643 feet tall. You’ll find the trailhead near the Visitor Center and the parking lot. It is steep but with many benches along the way, apt for a short break. Once you reach the summit, you can treat your eyes to the beautiful views of the Great Smoky Mountains and the surroundings. To enjoy a more precise sight, you can hike up further to the Observation Tower. As it is well above the surface level, the weather can get quite chilly. So don’t forget to take warm clothes with you.

From the Clingmans Dome, Mountain-to-Sea Trail stretches from about 1200 miles to Jockey’s Ridge State Park on the Outer Banks. All along, it boasts beautiful North Carolina landscapes of varied features.

Length: About 1 mile (round trip)

Difficulty: Moderate

Best time to visit: April to November

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8. Table Rock Summit Trail

Table Rock Summit Trail in Western North Carolina

Table Rock Summit Trail starts from the parking lot, taking you to the top of a rocky ridge. After hiking along the steep trail and scrambling over rocks, you’ll get incredible views of the entire Linville Gorge Wilderness Area and the Pisgah Forest. Features along the route, like the Chimney, offer rock-climbing opportunities. You can also spot Peregrine Falcon perched on a nearby cliff or tree.

Length: About 1 mile

Difficulty: Moderate

Best time to visit: All-year-round

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9. Hemphill Bald Trail

Hemphill Bald Trail in Western North Carolina

Hemphill Bald Trail near Cherokee is a challenging yet scenic and tranquil one. Barbed wires along the trail mark the borders of Cataloochee Ranch. The path is overgrown in some sections making it difficult to hike. As you near its end, it becomes narrower and steeper. The sights from the top are the most extraordinary ones in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. At the summit, which is above 5,550 feet, you can also enjoy a picnic at the lovely stone picnic table while admiring the views. You can also spot cattle grazing in bald areas.

Length: About 17.5 miles

Difficulty: Hard

Best time to visit: May to October

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10. Rainbow Falls Trail

Rainbow Falls Trail in Western North Carolina

Rainbow Falls Trail in Gorges State Park will lead you to a splendid 150 feet tall waterfall. The trail starts by going uphill gently and then descending downhill. You’ll get beautiful views of lush greenery and wildflowers along the way. After hiking the steep sections and crossing the creek, you’ll reach the falls. Taking a side trail, you can view it from its base with a closer side angle. However, to see it from the top, you will have to be extremely cautious. The path is quite dangerous, and many hikers get seriously injured or killed every year upon not maintaining caution.

If you want to see some more waterfalls, you can continue on the same trail that will lead you past a campsite. Hike for about half a mile upstream to reach the Turtleback Falls. Following the path further for 0.3 miles, you can also see Drift Falls.

Length: About 1.5 miles

Difficulty: Moderate

Best time to visit: All-year-round

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Best Hiking Trails in Southern North Carolina

1. Chimney Rock State Park Trail

Chimney Rock State ParkTrail in Southern North Carolina

Hikers of any skill level can access the various trails within Chimney Rock State Park. If you are looking for a family-friendly and easy one, the Great Woodland Adventure Trail or Hickory Nut Falls Trail are the perfect ones. The first one is short and exciting, especially for kids as they will know fascinating facts about the forest friends and get to see their dwelling places.

You can also choose the Exclamation Point Trail for a short yet moderate hike. It is primarily an uphill climb and consists of stairs and switchbacks. Though strenuous to hike, you will get to see unique geological formations, including Opera Box and Devil’s Head. After seeing these wonders, you can continue following the trail to reach the Exclamation Point, from where you’ll get incredible views of the entire Hickory Nut Gorge.

You will have to spend $17 per adult and $8 per child (5-15 years) as the state park’s admission fees before accessing the trail.

Length: Great Woodland Adventure Trail (0.6 miles), Exclamation Point Trail (0.6 miles)

Difficulty: Great Woodland Adventure Trail (Easy), Exclamation Point Trail (Moderate)

Best time to visit: All-year-round

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2. Hickory Nut Falls Trail

Hickory Nut Falls Trail in Southern North Carolina

This trail within Chimney Rock State Park near Lake Lure will bring you to the base of a 400 feet magnificent waterfall. It meanders through a dense forest and has several resting areas and picnic tables where you can take a break and admire nature. Though it is easily accessible, it isn’t wheelchair-friendly as the trail consists of some rocky sections and a set of stairs. At its end, the mighty waterfall flowing in its full glory awaits you. It is an incredible experience to witness it, along with the views of the surrounding flora and feeling the refreshing mist on you. The hike will take about an hour to complete.

Length: 1.5 miles (out and back)

Difficulty: Easy

Best time to visit: Summer to Fall

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Best Mountain Hikes: Grandfather Trail, Roan Mountain Gardens Trail, Mt. Mitchell State Park Trail

Best Waterfall Hikes: Stone Mountain State Park, Otter Falls Trail, Hickory Nut Falls Trail

Best Dog Friendly Hikes: Johnston Mill Natural Preserve, West House Trail, Catawba Falls Trail

Best Overnight Hikes: Art Loeb Trail, Appalachian Trails

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